Monday, August 6, 2012

An Episode Under the Terror by Honoré de Balzac

A riveting and poignant short story
Honoré de Balzac
Originally published in 1830, An Episode Under the Terror is one of the earliest pieces in Honoré de Balzac’s Comédie Humaine, a large series of works in which he explores the many facets of French society. “The Terror” in the title refers to the period immediately following the French Revolution of 1793, when thousands of people lost their heads under the guillotine. The nobility were stripped of their titles and wealth, and many were executed as enemies of the state. Because of their religious faith and their support of the former monarchy, the clergy were also persecuted by the new Republican government in its attempt to establish a radically secular state. This story revolves around members of the clergy who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the new government, and therefore were forced into hiding as fugitives.

In the captivating opening scene, an elderly woman trudges through the snowy, deserted streets of a run-down neighborhood in Paris, tailed by an unknown pursuer. The suspense is palpable. This is a short story, and little can be revealed without spoiling it, so the less said about the plot the better. Despite its brevity, it possesses a great depth of emotional power. Balzac expertly captures the paranoia that reigned during this dark period in France’s history, the undying faith of those suffering religious persecution, and the guilt and regret felt by many who saw the new regime as proof that France’s glory days had passed, never to return. An Episode Under the Terror is a very moving and memorable piece of writing. It’s only fault is that it’s so good, you’ll wish it were longer.

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